Shot Of Readiness

Mercer County agencies mobilize for mass vaccination drill



HERMITAGE, Pa. — The smiling volunteers and orderly patients inside Hickory High School on Sunday morning weren’t typical of mass distribution of vaccines in a public emergency.

It was only a drill.

The Mercer County Department of Public Safety, the Mercer Area Agency on Aging and the Community Health Partnership of Mercer County combined to distribute seasonal-flu and pneumonia vaccines in a “point of dispensing” drill on Sunday at Hickory High School. A point of dispensing drill allows officials to prepare for mass distribution of vaccines.

“There would be large lines. It would be more of an emergency nature,” said Frank Jannetti, director of public safety, about a potential outbreak.

“This is a good test,” he said.

The county department of Public Safety is charged with distributing vaccines in a public emergency, such as the potential threat of an H1N1 outbreak, Jannetti said.

Sunday was a practice run for the department and about 70 volunteers. The clinic was open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to distribute 800 seasonal-flu vaccines and 200 pneumonia vaccines, which the Agency on Aging and Community Health Partnership obtained through a grant.

Drills typically end with people taking home a piece of candy, but the Public Safety department worked with the other two agencies to provide vaccines to the public, said Jeff Greenburg, the county’s spokesman. The department completed its practice run and the Agency on Aging and Community Health Partnership sponsored the clinic.

The agencies limited publicity of the clinic because of the small number of vaccines it received, Greenburg said.

The county has been preparing for a public health emergency since July 2008, long before the H1N1 scare began, Greenburg said.

“The plan is not going to change,” said Albert Boland, chair of the Pandemic Committee. “We’ve been discussing H1N1 but not in great detail.”

The Pandemic Committee was formed in response to the Avian Flu scare, Boland said, but it is preparing for the county for any health emergency.

“We don’t want to be surprised,” he said.

The committee has broad representation from health care organizations, county officials and groups that target at-risk populations, such as the elderly, Boland said. It has about 30 members.

Committee members walked through the dispensing clinic before it opened and made minor adjustments, Boland said.

Volunteers were posted outside the school and inside the front doors. A volunteer handed tickets to people seeking the vaccines before shepherding them to a table to fill out medical forms. Before receiving the vaccine, volunteers verbally screened people and sent them to a table to receive the shot. Then, once they received the vaccination, they sat to wait for a potential reaction. The entire process took about 10 minutes per person.

“Once the vaccine is all used up, we shut down,” Boland said.

The clinic brought people from around Western Pennsylvania to receive the shots.

Letitia Banks, 52, of Farrell said it is important for everyone to get the flu shot.

“I don’t have insurance, so this is ideal for me,” she said.

For Bob Shearer, 62, of Hermitage, the clinic was necessary because his doctor’s office ran out of the vaccine.

“They were out and not going to get anymore,” he said.

The people who received the vaccine were largely relaxed, sitting down after walking through the clinic to await any potential side effects. The long lines that have been typical of flu clinics were nowhere to be found yesterday, likely because of the limited publicity.

In a public health emergency, Greenburg said that he would work with media and through area groups that target at-risk populations to get the word out.

“This is very relaxed compared to what you would see in an emergency,” Greenburg said.

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